NASA Plans to Demolish Rocket Test Stands
San Fernando Valley Residents Concerned About Soil Removal Process
NASA plans to demolish rocket test stands and other structures at a former nuclear research laboratory just west of the San Fernando Valley.
The decision released Thursday brings the agency closer to meeting a 2017 deadline to clean up contaminated soil at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Boeing and the U.S. Department of Energy are also working with the state to clean up the site which had a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959 and decades of contamination from rocket testing.
NASA, which is responsible for 458 acres of the 2,800-acre site, has six remaining rocket test stands – the only ones left at Santa Susana.
NASA’s National Environmental Policy Act Project Coordinator Jennifer Groman said the contamination comes from the fuels that were used during rocket testing and the cleaning agents used to clean the engines.
“As you can imagine, in and around test stands and some of those buildings where we might have stored fuels, we may have had leaks over the years,” Groman said. “To get to the cleanup, there are a lot of buildings that have to go away.”
Almost all of the test stands were built between 1954 and 1957. In the 1960s, much of the support work for the Saturn Apollo program which sent astronauts to the moon was performed at Santa Susana. The Coca I and Coca IV Test Stands were used for more than 700 “hot fire” tests and more than 500 related laboratory tests through 1988. All test stands were taken out of service by 2006.
Starting this summer, NASA plans to start demolishing the test stands, associated facilities and other buildings associated with the management of the site. Infrastructure, includes pipes and utilities, will also be removed.
As part of a programmatic agreement with 35 parties related National Historic Preservation Act compliance, NASA has agreed to delay demolition for two of the three areas with test stands. They want to determine which area has the least amount of contamination and whether a potential future owner is interested in saving one.
“We’re hoping to save a test stand,” NASA spokesperson Merrilee Fellows said. “There’s a lot of things that factor into whether we can save one or not, but many members of the community have asked for us to try to save a test stand as a reminder of the past and the contributions that Santa Susana made in the space race.”
NASA will not proceed with soil or groundwater cleanup activities until the field sampling and technology feasibility studies are complete. The cleanup process has caused concern for some residents of the San Fernando Valley. While NASA can treat some of the contamination on-site, the majority is considered untreatable and must be excavated.
According to NASA’s environmental impact report, removing the contaminated soil would involve 142 truck trips per day for three years. The trucks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds would traverse busy streets, including Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Roscoe Boulevard, Valley Circle Boulevard and Plummer Street.
Councilmember Mitch Englander has raised concerns about the risk of exposure to children as well as the wear and tear on the streets.
“While I have long advocated for the full clean-up of the site, I feel compelled to express my disappointment at the lack of consideration for other methods of soil and demolition debris removal from the site,” he wrote last year when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released. “I feel compelled to add that it is quite unbelievable that some other option for conveyance of the contaminated material from the site was not studied.”
In March, the West Hills Neighborhood Council passed a resolution stating that on-site remediation is much preferred over removing and replacing soil. They also suggested the agencies removing the soil should be responsible for any damage to the streets.
“We’re not the first people to be carting soil off the mountains. Boeing has been carting soil of the mountain for a long time,” Groman said.
NASA plans to mitigate the risks by using automatic tarps and super sacks to ensure the contaminated soil is concealed in the trucks. There is no timetable for when the excavation will begin. Groman said they are conducting final tests to determine the most efficient and effective ways to meet the 2017 deadline.
Tags: Mitch Englander, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, West Hills Neighborhood Council